NZ Chatham Islands Information
Resting in the waters east of Christchurch, the Chatham Islands consist of
about ten islands, only two of which, Chatham and Pitt, are inhabited. The rest
of the islands were used at various times for farming and grazing and now have
only limited access. Like so many of the islands around New Zealand, the fragile
environments were severely damaged and are now protected by the department of
conservation. The main island is softly hilly land, dotted with inlets and
lagoons; in fact, the Te Whanga Lagoon takes up 1/5th of Chatham Island. The
islands were named for William Broughton’s 1791 voyage on the HMS Chatham,
claiming the islands as a part of the British Empire.
Less than 800 people live on the two main islands, so while there are a variety
of activities available, the area is hardly over-commercialized. Waitangi is the
largest settlement in the area with approximately 200 people. There is one main
store, one café, and one waterfront hotel that doubles as a bar. There is only
one bank to be found on the island but a visit here should be spent outdoors.
Great weather and beautiful landscapes ensure endless options to explore the
area. Bird watching, fishing, kite-surfing, scenic trails and scuba diving are
all available to the visitor to the Chathams.
The first inhabitants of the islands may have come either from the Polynesian
Islands north of the Chathams or they may have been Maori, from the main part of
New Zealand. The descendents of the first settlers were called the Moriori and
whatever their roots, they developed a unique culture in the Chatham Islands.
They lived as peaceful hunter-gatherers on the island with a population of
roughly 2000 until European settlers and Maori whalers/traders brought diseases
that almost completely wiped out the people.
On Chatham Island, the J.M. Barker National Historic reserve, Hapupu, is one of
only two national historic reserves in all on New Zealand. The Reserve was
established in order to preserve the Morior rakau momori, carvings made into the
sides of kopi trees for reasons of emotional and spiritual significance. The
carvings were once far more abundant in the area, but as it was re-settled more
and more of the ancient engravings were destroyed. The few still in the Reserve
are among the only remaining signs from the almost lost Moriori culture. The
Reserve is accessible by car and there are several nature trails leading into
the reserve to the locations of the carvings.
While the Chatham Islands are about as remote as a place can be, regular air
service makes this end of the world get away less than two hours from
Christchurch. Now, despite the obscurity of its location, it is connected by
daily flights to the rest of New Zealand.
One peculiarity of the islands resting on 180 degrees longitude is that they
have their own time zone, observing it 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand time due
to its location in relationship to the International Date Line.